How Water Purification for Power Generation Is Evolving

How Water Purification for Power Generation Is Evolving

November 27, 2019

Water purification is something most people are familiar with in a small capacity. You might have a deionization system in your basement or use activated carbon filters for your tap water, for example.

Now, imagine water purification on a much larger scale—like for power generation. A hydroelectric plant is simply too big for these everyday household systems—yet the need for purification is still there. It begs the question: how do these facilities purify the much-needed water they use on an everyday basis? The answer is complex, and it’s critical to understand why water purification is important to begin with.

Why purification?

Hydroelectric power has been around since the dawn of industrialized America. If you lay them out on a map, most power plants are next to a major water source, like the Mississippi River or one of the Great Lakes. This isn’t a coincidence! Water is vital for creating electricity.

In some cases, water is used to create steam, which powers turbines that generate electricity. But in most cases, water is a cooling medium for other forms of power generation, such as coal and natural gas plants. But not just any water will do. As we learn more about efficient power generation, it has become apparent that clean, purified water is best.

The reason clean, purified water is so important is because it’s low in total dissolved solids (TDS)—things like organic matter or debris that might cause fouling or buildups in the hydroelectric system. Water taken directly from a lake or stream will eventually cause the cooling system to break down due to high TDS content. As a result, most modern power plants have an on-site water filtration and purification system.

Water purification has come a long way

As mentioned, industrial water purification goes far beyond a simple activated carbon filter. Today, most industrial power plants use a four-phase method of purifying water:

  1. Flocculation removes larger solids and debris from water using high-capacity screens.
  2. Filtration forces water through fine screens to remove microbial matter.
  3. Reverse osmosis removes molecular-level contaminants for further refinement.
  4. Chemical additives are used to balance the water, reducing corrosivity.

Combined, these four steps in industrial purification are able to remove up to 99 percent of contaminants from source water, allowing hydroelectric operations to function without threats caused by water contamination. Pure water helps minimize maintenance and improve the cooling efficiency of even the largest electrical generation system.

Purification is getting more important

As the energy industry moves away from coal, oil and fossil fuels altogether, water purification becomes even more important. Electrical plants will have more reliance on cooling and more complex systems for utilizing water to provide it. Having the cleanest possible water will help maintain system integrity, allowing for more productive output.

Water purification technology is keeping up with demand. Today’s flocculation and filtration methods are more effective than ever, able to remove more TDS at a faster rate. Even reverse osmosis on an industrial scale is becoming more efficient. It all adds up to greener steps towards an eco-friendlier future of clean power.

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